Student outbreaks 'entirely predictable' as scientific adviser admits modelling on campus return was undertaken

It comes as Scottish Labour call for an urgent investigation into potential human rights breaches due to the weekend restrictions.

Sunday, 27th September 2020, 11:48 am
Outbreaks among students were "entirely" predictable.
Outbreaks among students were "entirely" predictable.

Campus outbreaks of Covid-19 were “entirely predictable” a leading epidemiologist who admitted modelling on students returning to universities was undertaken by government advisers.

Professor Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh University and member of the UK Government's Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), said campus outbreaks had been modelled and were considered “inevitable”.

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The academic said the areas viewed as most at risk of an outbreak were first year students in halls of residences and those with face-to-face teaching.

Thousands of students across the UK have been told to stay in their rooms over this weekend due to outbreaks in universities.

Hundreds at Glasgow University and Edinburgh Napier University have been self-isolating, while thousands of students are in lockdown at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Prof Woolhouse said: "This situation I am afraid has been entirely predictable. The first thing to say is that students didn’t start this current phase of the epidemic, this began way back in August in Scotland and the rest of the UK and the students just got caught up in it.

"Now, because a university involves students coming in from many different parts of the country and congregating in very close proximity, it is inevitable there’s going to be some spread among the student population and that’s what we're seeing.

"There was some very nice modelling done of this by our SPI-M colleagues at the University of Bristol and what they showed quite clearly that the risk areas were particularly first year students in halls of residence as well as face-to-face teaching.

"So this was very predictable and it was modelled.”

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon backed new restrictions which meant all students were forced to stay at home and banned from socialising in cafes, bars, pubs and restaurants and mixing with other households.

Students were also told they were not allowed to visit family over the weekend, but they were expected to go to work over the weekend if they had shifts, even if they were in the same sectors they are banned from in any other capacity.

On Saturday night, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard called for the Scottish Human Rights Commission to launch a probe into whether the restrictions had breached the human rights of students.

Labour raised potential breaches including students being banned from hospitality venues, students self-isolating in unsuitable accommodation, and students being subject to rules that are different to that of the wider public.

Reacting to Prof Woolhouse’s comments today, Mr Leonard said: “The situation in universities in Scotland and across the UK is a matter of deep concern that has put lives at risk.

“The failure of the UK and Scottish governments to heed the calls of experts has led to a disastrous situation in which thousands of students have been corralled into cramped accommodation as the virus has spiked on campuses across the country.

“Time after time in this crisis, the UK and Scottish governments have failed to anticipate, to plan, to test quickly and extensively enough and to act on scientific advice. What we now need is an urgent investigation into the possibility that the human rights of thousands of students have been violated.”

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